Herald-Leader Editorial

Ky. Republicans should know food stamps feed their young and elderly constituents

July 30, 2013 

It has been a month since the U.S. House, including all of Kentucky's Republicans, abandoned a 40-year practice by dropping food stamps from the farm bill.

Despite assurances from the Republicans who control the House that they would consider reauthorizing the nutrition program before it runs out in October, a conference committee with the Senate has yet to materialize.

While Congress dithers, the food security of millions of Americans and 800,000 Kentuckians is in jeopardy.

Even Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the nation's second-poorest district, where one in three households depend on food stamps, voted for a farm bill without the nutrition assistance program.

Unbelievably, after the vote, Rogers said, "I didn't think it will have an adverse impact on my district."

Food stamps are especially crucial to the young and old. Of the 32 percent of households in Rogers' district that receive them, a quarter include at least one person older than 60; half include at least one child.

Of the 800,000 Kentuckians enrolled in the program, 60 percent live below the federal poverty line — an income of $22,000 for a family of four.

The average food stamp benefit is a whopping $134 a month.

Since 1973, farm subsidy and nutritional assistance programs have been coupled, often passing with huge bipartisan margins. But earlier this month, the farm bill failed on first pass under opposition from House Democrats, who found the proposed $20 billion cut to food stamps extreme and Republicans who wanted to gut the program further.

Predictably kowtowing to its ideological fringe instead of compromising, the House GOP took food stamps out of the bill entirely, issuing vague promises that the program would be looked at later.

While House Republicans created more uncertainty for the poor, they fattened agriculture subsidies, the vast majority of which go to the largest operations. House Republicans even did away with a limit approved by the Senate on federal farm aid to people making more than $750,000 a year.

All five of Kentucky's Republicans — Reps. Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie, Thomas Massie, Andy Barr and Rogers— put lucrative subsidies for Big Agriculture above feeding their needy constituents. Kentucky's lone Democrat, John Yarmuth of Louisville, opposed the bill.

It's disappointing to see Kentucky Republicans even tacitly endorse the undercurrent of spite that regards poverty as deserved comeuppance. This attitude drove House action on the farm bill and led politicians like Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., to cite the Bible to say, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."

Of course, Fincher, the Tennessee congressman, has had no qualms about accepting $3.5 million in farm subsidies while preaching penny-pinching for others.

Kentuckians who depend on food stamps are not the high-flying, check-drawing caricatures that politicians invoke to justify drastic cuts in federal spending.

They have been left marooned, through no fault of their own, by a changing economy, or they are too young or too old to work.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that 92 percent of food stamp recipients are seniors, children, disabled or working adults.

Reauthorizing the program, without spiteful, draconian cuts, should be the House's top priority. Failure to do so would quite literally take food from the mouths of hungry children.

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